I was recently at a conference where a symposium speaker had not prepared for her presentation. After introducing herself, she said, “I’m very sorry. I wasn’t able to prepare slides or a speech, so I’m just going to talk for a couple of minutes on <topic> and just leave it open to questions…” In this case, “a couple of minutes” was 40 seconds. I know, because the session was recorded and is available on YouTube. There were no questions. What was supposed to be a 15-minute talk was 30 seconds of introduction, 40 seconds of content, and 20 seconds of awkwardly waiting for questions. The kicker? This was a conference where speakers know they will be presenting 8 months ahead of time.
She – a graduate student – missed her deadline. Ten percent was not taken off her grade for being late. She was not allowed to present the following week for half points. She got a zero for her assignment – and her presentation is publicly available for all to see. In perpetuity. Whether you are presenting at a conference, presenting for a new client, or preparing a grant application, there are fixed deadlines. Those deadlines are not going to move no matter what is happening in your life.
What were the top 6 reasons the Collegiate Employment Research Institute at Michigan State University found for why new hires got fired (Gardner, 2007)?
- “Unethical behavior”
- “Lack of motivation/work ethic”
- “Inappropriate use of technology”
- “Failure to follow instructions”
- “Late for work”
- “Missing assignment deadlines”
A colleague was telling me that he’s struck by how some of his students have no resiliency. When one thing goes wrong, everything else in their lives must come to a stop until the crisis, however small, is resolved.
Crisis management is a skill. Powering through adversity is a skill. Project management is a skill. Priority-setting is a skill.
The American Psychological Association Guidelines for the Major 2.0 (American Psychological Association, 2016) lists a number of outcomes for goal 5: professional development. These outcomes include at the foundational level:
5.3a. “Follow instructions, including timely delivery, in response to project criteria”
5.3b. “Identify appropriate resources and constraints that may influence project completion”
5.3c. “Anticipate where potential problems can hinder successful project completion”
And at the baccalaureate level:
5.3B. “Effectively challenge constraints and expand resources to improve project completion”
5.3C. “Actively develop alternative strategies, including conflict management, to contend with potential problems”
If you are going to complete an assignment by the deadline, you need to line up your ducks. Aligning ducks is a skill. When we allow students to turn in late work, we are actively helping students NOT learn these skills.
If a student is unable to complete the work in the time allotted, then this is a valuable lesson for a student to learn. Could they have done things differently? For the next project, what will the student do that they didn’t do this time? If the student has just bitten off more than they can chew, this is also important for a student to learn. In the fall I have plenty of students with families who are working full time and trying to go to school full time. They struggle because there are not enough hours in the day to do what they need to do, and what they learn is that taking a few credits per term is plenty.
One final note about recently-deceased grandparents. Some grandparents really are recently-deceased. But some are not. Students learned early on that some excuses are more likely to lead to extensions and grace periods than other excuses. Who wants to be the professor that tells a grieving student to suck it up and finish the paper? This puts professors in the awkward position of asking for proof, because who wants to be the professor who doesn’t believe the grieving student? I gave up on all of that a long time ago. I have nothing in my courses that is worth more than 10% of the overall grade, so missing one assignment will not completely tank a grade. And I drop the lowest score in each category of assignment. If a student has submitted all assignments to date, this one missing assignment will be the one that is dropped. No questions asked and no excuses needed. If a student has a whole string of crises during the course, their best option may be to withdraw and try it all again next term after things have settled down.
Regardless of whether you accept late work or not, be conscious about what you are trying to accomplish with your late assignment policy.
In the end, the question shouldn’t be whether we accept late work or not. The question should be how can we best help our students learn the project management skills they need to complete work on time so they don’t graduate and get hired only to get fired for reason #6.
American Psychological Association. (2016). Guidelines for the undergraduate psychology major: Version 2.0. American Psychologist, 71(2), 102–111. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0037562
Gardner, P. (2007). Moving Up or Moving Out of the Company? Factors that Influence the Promoting or Firing of New College Hires. CERI Research Brief 1, 1–7. Retrieved from http://ceri.msu.edu/publications/pdf/brief1-07.pdf